Now that spring is almost here, you know what that means. MUSHROOMING. I am a proud member of the New York Mycological Society, and the more I learn about the culture of mushrooms, the more I fall in love with them. Here's why:
1) The science is exciting. See above for a picture of Gary Lincoff, the universe's foremost expert on mushrooms. A couple years ago, I went on a Chinatown mushrooming expedition with him. He, of course, is a legend: author of the definitive Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, and keynote speaker at mycological conventions around the world. People like Nathan Myhrvold bring technological science to cooking. Harold McGee brings physical science. Gary brings biological science, and I like that, too.
2) Foraging is a contemplative sport. The French love to mushroom. If Americans like action movies and hunting, then the French like the wandering brooding movie and mushrooming's quiet intellectual chase. It's like birdwatching, with more danger and dirt -- and a meal at the end!
3) The language is beautiful and evocative. Here are some descriptions from the Audubon book (italics mine):
cap or gills becoming powdery;
gills often incompletely formed;
on rotting mushrooms
cap slimy, lined;
sometimes on wood debris or dung.
4) Each mushroom is a personality. It's easy to get absorbed into a world of spores, gills, veils and rings. I have to say that sometimes I'm a little disgusted by mushrooms -- spores creep me out, as do mushrooms that pop up after a rainstorm -- but I think that's part of the allure. There are like characters in a book. A variety of traits and characteristics that make them poisonous, shy, promiscuous, treasured. Some are ugly, some are elegant. You can spend a lifetime (like Gary), getting to know them all.
5) They taste delicious! I like enokis in my soup, portobellos grilled, straw mushrooms with my Chinese-style eggplant. I love Hen of the Woods with just olive oil, salt and pepper. Abalone in a velvety Chinese stir-fry with various dried bivalves, wood ear in witchy stew with limp cabbage and hairmoss. And then, how can you resist a fresh morel, tossed with green peas and carrying little buckets of butter within its pits.